Remain focused when opportunity knocks

How empathy, vulnerability and an honest appraisal can positively influence big decisions in business, in life and professionally.
Collin Govender
By Collin Govender, Managing director of Altron Karabina and Altron Systems Integration
Johannesburg, 21 Sept 2023
Collin Govender, MD of Altron Karabina and Altron Systems Integration.
Collin Govender, MD of Altron Karabina and Altron Systems Integration.

Change is inevitable in life and business, and with that change comes opportunity, uncertainty, fear and a cascade of other emotions. The key to a successful life and career is remaining focused, irrespective of change.

Professionally, it is prudent to ensure there is continued business momentum during change, and then there is a responsibility to activate and drive that change with the people of the organisation.

How does this look through my lens? I joined Altron Karabina at a time when the business needed to change its fortunes, and I led a turnaround with a remarkable team. Then, when the results spoke for themselves. it was announced I would be embarking on a new assignment at Altron Systems Integration.

There are times when we must actively choose to make decisions regarding our careers, and work through considerations involved in making the right decision. It is an incredibly vulnerable moment and one that is simply not possible without empathy.

When faced with this difficult choice, you must stay true to your personal value system and purpose.

Empathy, naturally, is putting yourself in other people’s shoes, while self-empathy involves observing yourself and your experiences in an empathetic manner. Take the time to cultivate these habits, especially in times of change.

Most of my roles have involved fixing something and setting it up for success in the future. In all these roles, I had been told by people that I respect that I should go in and make the changes because they had faith that I could pull it off.

I took up the Altron Systems Integration role in October last year, and have walked some very difficult yards with the team since. We needed to build trust quickly, as we had no time to spare before executing change.

The result is that we have built rapport as a team and the work we are doing is starting to bear fruit − one of the most rewarding times in business, when your efforts begin to pay off as it creates hope for the future. But how did we get here?

An opportunity came along and I had to make a difficult choice. Everyone will find themselves in these situations at some point in their careers. When these moments arrive, you must make an active choice about what is right and what you want to do.

When faced with this difficult choice, you must stay true to your personal value system and purpose. That was my situation. I needed to reflect on my own value system, and interestingly, it was my wife who turned on the light bulb. She asked: “You are always working through a process and restructuring and changing but who made those decisions for your career? You, or someone else?”

Would I take the job because I am being told to change something, or would I take the job because I wanted to embark on the challenge? The decision came with a degree of uncertainty, concern and even anxiety.

First, I thought to myself: in the new role I could make a further positive impact on the overall organisation by helping Altron Systems Integration achieve its potential. Then concern and anxiety crept in: What about my team? I am leaving them behind, how will that land? This is where your heart tussles with your brain.

Having gone through the process, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on whose happiness I tend to consider when making decisions. It is one thing to serve, and be a servant leader, but in life, who are you trying to please − yourself or others? And if all your decisions are anchored in pleasing other people, you will do yourself a disservice.

Even so, the entire process needs to be anchored in empathy. What are some of the things I did in the background, before the decision was announced? I had discussions with people I trust and those that I knew would be impacted by the decision and I brought them into my confidence.

This may not always be the right course of action but it helped me empathise effectively. It also helped me understand that as a big decision lands, it is crucial to remain connected − by aligning on values − to the same people.

While I may have had fears that my team would feel abandoned, the old cliche states that a good leader makes himself or herself redundant. The exercise helped demonstrate that many of my abandonment fears were fantasy.

As I observe the team today, I am filled with validation, joy and confidence in the company’s future. This gives me immense peace around the decision that was made. Applying these lessons to business If you want to live a purposeful life and achieve goals, you need to test yourself in the mornings before work and again in the evenings after work.

What affirmation do you tell yourself in the morning to ensure you live out your value system and purpose? In the evenings, hold yourself accountable, but with self-empathy.

Leaders can take the same tenets that underpinned my important decision and apply them to business decisions.

Business decisions need to align with the company’s values and purpose, they need to consider the people, they need to be geared towards growth and developing leaders, and they must seek to have meaningful impact. Our job as leaders is not to be revered. It is to build leadership capacity so that you can build sustainability.

This is an important point because you want people to carry on and go beyond where you left them. That’s success. You want the seeds that you sowed to germinate so that other people can harvest the crops. That’s how I have judged that my decision was the right one.